Analysis: College Grads’ Turn To Military Demonstrates Panic For Social Mobility

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    Wendy Barranco, a college student and Iraq war veteran looks at a photographic book on Iraq in Pasadena, Calif. Tuesday, March 18, 2008. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

    Wendy Barranco, a college student and Iraq war veteran looks at a photographic book on Iraq in Pasadena, Calif. Tuesday, March 18, 2008. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)


    (MintPress) — It is no secret in 2012 that times are tough for college graduates. Some are moving home after graduation because they face an uncertain future; student loans have been predicted to be the next bubble to burst, similar to that of the housing crisis; and the current job market has students hardly able to find part-time work, let alone begin advancing in their careers. But a new trend has blossomed in light of the difficult economic climate: College graduates are turning to the military to solve their joblessness woes. The surge is a push in the right direction to create a semblance of upward social mobility in America, where citizens have the least likely chance to better their status than those in most European countries and Canada.

    Recent data shows that since 2007, when the recession began to set in, there has been a dramatic increase of college graduates entering the military ranks. There has been a 60 percent increase of graduates enrolling in the Army and Navy compared to the figures from 2007, when the recession began to set in. It’s a trend that military recruiters have seen before when certain career fields were harder to get into than others, says the RAND Corporation’s Beth Asch.

    “When the economy worsens, as it has in recent years, we certainly see a surge in the number of young people who are highly qualified, who want to join the military,” Asch said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR).

    Asch acknowledged that those with college degrees still make up a small portion of total recruits, but notes that as long as the economy continues to remain stagnant, those numbers will come closer to leveling out. In 2010, the Navy enlisted 1,425 college graduates compared to 1,011 in 2008. The Air Force saw a high percentage increase as well, bringing in 920 college graduates in 2010, a much larger figure than the 553 the branch saw in 2008.

    For some, the notion of a steady income is all the reason to sign on, as new recruits who work stateside can make upward of $50,000 per year – slightly higher than the average income in America. In an interview with the Columbus Dispatch, recent college graduate Josh Gibson said his career interests, as well as the current economic state, pushed him to enlist. The prospects of moving up in the military are more accessible because college degrees are required to be promoted to “officer” rank.

    “I’ve always had in the back of my head that it was either law school or working for the government,” Gibson said. “I know the economy kind of pushed (my decision).”

     

    Indicator of ‘success’

    Sociologists often look at a demographic’s level of success in terms of social mobility, particularly upward social mobility – the opportunity for a person to move from one social position to another over time; social mobility is most commonly measured with income brackets and levels of education achievements.

    More so in the United States than many industrialized countries around the world is the idea that mobility is remarkably limited. In other words, the likelihood of someone being born into a particular economic situation, rich or poor, and staying there for a majority of their lives is much more common in the U.S. The Economic Mobility Project, a branch of the Pew Research Center, found in a 2010 study that the U.S. has a much more divided socioeconomic class than that of neighboring Canada. More than one-quarter of the sons of America’s top earners remain in the top tenth of income earners as adults. In Canada, that rate was 18 percent.

    Inversely, 22 percent of those born into the bottom 10th of income earners stay at that level throughout their adult lives, compared to 16 percent in Canada. Scott Winship, a fellow of economic studies at the Brookings Institute, says men are disproportionately affected by the lack of social mobility, which was only made worse by men being hit harder by the recession in terms of job loss as well.

    “What is clear is that in at least one regard American mobility is exceptional: not in terms of downward mobility from the middle or from the top, and not in terms of upward mobility from the middle — rather, where we stand out is in our limited upward mobility from the bottom,” Winship wrote. “And in particular, it’s American men who fare worse than their counterparts in other countries.”

    The pattern has boiled over into the political field as well, highlighted by the Occupy movement and its efforts to expose the growing income inequality seen in America. The concentration of wealth is largely measured by income ratio growth over periods of time. According to G. William Domhoff, professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, in 1960 the average CEO in America made $42 for every $1 made by the average factory worker. In 2010, the ratio swelled to $531 for every $1.

    “It’s even more revealing to compare the actual rates of increase of the salaries of CEOs and ordinary workers,” Dumhoff wrote in a report. “From 1990 to 2005, CEOs’ pay increased almost 300 percent, while production workers gained a scant 4.3 percent.”

    So it seems that politicians are beating an false drum when they make stump speeches pandering their services to middle class Americans because the middle class is shrinking day by day. The Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of Americans identified themselves as middle class, down from 53 percent in 2008. An upward shift was found in those who described themselves as lower or lower-middle class, as 32 percent now claim that label compared to 25 percent in 2008.

    Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, says many Americans simply are not aware of the real discrepancies of income inequality in America, despite the blatant shift in executive pay over the past decades.

    “I think that researchers know about the poor mobility and millions of people are experiencing it – but it is little discussed in a society in which both parties purport to represent the ‘middle class’ and no one is talking about the locked-in poor or the risk of downward mobility in public life,” Orfield told Huffington Post.

     

    The burden of cost

    What was once a shoe-in to the job market, having a college degree comes with equal parts risk and benefit nowadays. And attaining a college degree now comes with the risk of serious debt and dwindling job opportunities. But one of the key indicators of upward mobility is the attainment of a college degree, something that has become much more of a challenge today with lower family incomes and surging tuition rates.

    According to FinAid, college tuition rates increase at around twice the rate of general inflation. So while family incomes remain stagnant, college costs could eventually increase to a point where it ultimately becomes unaffordable. Annual increases in tuition have also tainted the attitudes of Americans toward the country’s university system, as only 57 percent of Americans believe that college is a worthwhile investment.

    A survey from this year also shows that people are less willing to take on the amount of student debt often need to pay for a degree. This year, 42 percent say that they would not be willing to take on more than $20,000 in student loan debt. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of tuition plus expenses for one year of school at a four-year public is around $19,000, meaning the total cost of the average public university education could be as high as $76,000.

    If education remains one of the highest indicators of social mobility, high costs and poor attitudes toward college will only further solidify long-term economic class. Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says the general consensus is that college will reach such a hefty price tag that it will no longer be seen as a worthy investment.

    “There’s a lack of incentive in higher education to be cost-efficient,” Vedder said.


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